Apologies for the radio silence, readers. I went on holiday, and somehow all my plans to get ahead of myself and schedule posts before I went didn’t work out.
I suspect they didn’t work out because I was sadly behind on deadlines. I’d intended a week completely free of writing to unwind entirely, but that didn’t go to plan, either and I ended up writing the last 4,000 words of the middle book of my fantasy series while I was there.
Don’t feel too sorry for me, however, because this was my view. It was so relaxing and so inspiring that the last 4k words flowed (fairly) effortlessly.
Now I’m back in the real world it’s time for the proper work to start: revisions! And in the meantime, my designer is hard at work and I hope to have a cover to share with you soon – watch this space.
I’ve spoken before about how I’ve found books to read for my free reading challenge. I’ve surfed Amazon (not a brilliant success), found books from e-mail promotion companies, and from recommendations on Facebook and Twitter and signed up to blog tours (much more successful). Just lately, I’ve also signed up to several author newsletters to get the free book they’re offering (usually the first in series offered to make you fall in love with the series world and characters). As a writer myself, I’m also using this as research to see what other people are doing with and for their subscribers.
Most authors mail periodically, and it’s clearly the recommended approach to send other free stuff to those who’ve signed up (I’m not sure if there’s some kind of a rule – give people so much for free, then ask them to buy a book, maybe?). To a degree I understand this; keep your customers reading and pleased to hear from you. However, in the past week or two I’ve had a newsletter inviting me to enter a draw to win sixty two physical books (how much shelf space?) and other offering fifty free ebooks to download to my Kindle. This morning came the pinnacle of current offers: a hundred ebooks to choose from.
Too much choice?
Am I the only one who finds offers like that a bit overwhelming? I spend a lot of time reading, but – sixty two? All at once? I was bad enough when I got a boxed set of twenty ebooks for 99p last year. I think I read one in its entirety, and about five more I read for long enough to know they weren’t my thing (the quality was REALLY variable). The rest faded into the depths of my Kindle. They might one day resurface, but personally I wouldn’t bet on it. And that’s the thing. I don’t want books to languish, unread. Books aren’t real until they’ve stepped into the imagination of the reader and been given new life. So I really only want to get 3 or 4 books at once, and then replenish once I’ve read them or decided I’m not going to read them.
However, just in case this works as an approach (I’d hate to miss the next big idea) I’ve joined an Instafreebie giveaway with lots of other sci-fi and fantasy authors. If you’re interested, check it out: there are more than a hundred books to choose from, but you can be as picky as you like and just take one or two. Of course, if you aren’t overwhelmed by too much choice you’re free to grab them all!
I’ve been making a deliberate effort to increase my productivity lately. I’m now a self-published writer looking to increase the audience for my fiction. One of the sure-fire ways to do this is to write more books (everything I’ve read about self-publishing says the key is to write more and get more books out if you want to find an audience, with 5 books often mentioned as the breakthrough point). I published my first book in November 2014, and my next in November 2015 so I need to speed up. Here are the methods I’ve used to help me increase the number of words I write.
1. Write more often
Like many (most?) self-published writers, especially those still establishing their careers, I still have a day job, which for me involves working shifts. This means writing has to fit into the gaps left around paid work and family responsibilities. When I launched my first book I would often have two days per week when I “couldn’t” write.
Taking inspiration from writer friends who shared their 500-word challenge on Facebook, I decided this had to change. I lowered my standards of what was an acceptable result for a day’s writing, but in exchange I expected myself to write every day. Whatever else happens, I will write 500 words every day. This doesn’t sound like a lot (which is why I let those words slip out of my grasp), but it adds up. 500 x 364 days (you can have Christmas off, if you like!) makes 182,000 words. It will depend what genre you write in, but for me, 182k words is two and a half books (my YA urban fantasy novels come in around 70k). Two and a half books from a measly 500 words a day, get in!
2. Write more in the time you have
You may be grumbling that it’s all very well for me, but what if you can’t write even 500 words in a day? Well, if you really want to fit them in but you only have a few minutes, I’m going to suggest the deceptively simple strategy of writing faster.
If I feel in any danger of procrastinating, or the deadline for the school run is drawing close and I haven’t written enough words, I use a timer. Twenty minutes of focussed writing rarely fails to net me at least 500 words. If you genuinely can’t find twenty minutes together, write 100 words in 5 minutes and do that five times. That can fit into time waiting for your bus, waiting for the pasta to cook while the kids play, or use your tea breaks. Scribble in a notepad or use the notes facility on your phone – you’ll be surprised at what you can achieve if you fill in time that’s usually wasted.
3. Write more useable words
Oh, but that’s horribly bitty – how are you supposed to keep your train of thought on a scene if you’re writing it in several sections? Best way to do it is to plan – which is also a great way to increase productivity by ensuring you don’t waste any (well, many; things will always change in the edit) of the words you write.
I’m releasing my third book in June (only just outside that 6 month window), but it could have been out in the world much earlier if I hadn’t spent so much time writing myself up blind alleys.
I don’t have time for that any more, so I’ve evolved from being a complete pantster (oh, the hours I spent staring at a blank screen and running out of ideas at the 20k point!) to planning very clearly. Before I start writing I know the overall shape of the book and key elements that have to happen in each chapter. Before I sit down to do my day’s writing (whether that’s 500 words or – hopefully – more), I sketch out the scene or scenes I’m about to write. Five or six lines outlining what’s about to happen makes writing a thousand word scene a straightforward proposition – I know what’s going to happen, I can see it in my mind’s eye; all I need to do is write it down so my reader can also see the scene.
Combining these three methods has had a dramatic effect. I drafted a 70k word novel in six weeks during November/December, revised it in January and it’s now with a beta reader. Onto the next and I’ve written 58k words of the first draft since February first. The third is already taking shape in my mind, so I hope by the end of the summer to have three books ready for editing, so they can be launched early in 2017.
4. Celebrate your words
As you can see above, as I write, I also fill up a grid with pretty stars (I have stickers, but couldn’t find them on 1st February, and I’ve been too focused on the words to look for them since!). Each square represents one thousand words, which can be split up to mark off 500 words if that’s all I’ve managed that day. When I’ve finished my writing I find the appropriate sharpie and star off however many words I’ve added to my first draft that day.
This provides a visual reminder of how much progress I’m making. Just as I like to have a written plan on post-it notes and a whiteboard, this provides a record away from the computer word count of how I’m doing. It’s incredibly, childishly satisfying to see a book take shape like this. And it’s a tool to help me keep going. If I’m flagging I can look at it and I know I don’t want to let myself down by giving up or telling myself it’s okay to miss a day. This sheet has had at least one star added every single day since February 1st – I can’t fail now.
5. Enjoy every word
Having just read back my post, I wanted to add a caveat. I’ve made this sound very focussed and driven. To a degree, that’s right because I am. I love writing, and getting my fiction into the hands of eager readers is all I’ve ever wanted to do. But at the same time, I’m doing this because I love it, not because I have to. I love every part of the writing process: thinking through the plot, getting to know my characters, drafting, writing, re-writing, editing. Writing should be a pleasure, and while sometimes it’s tough and you need to grit your teeth, you should never lose sight of why you took up writing or why you want to write this book you’ve started.
These methods work for me, right now. I hope they’ll continue to work for me so I can write three books a year for as long as I can hold a pen and think up stories. But, I’d still be writing even if I thought I could only write one a year, or half a year.
Like all writing advice, if these methods strike a chord, try them and see if they can help you write more. But if they don’t work, or if you don’t want to write at this rate, then don’t.
It’s your book, write it your way.
If you try these methods, or if you do something different to get the words out, I’d love to hear about it. Please comment below.
There’s something magical about writing. Well, yeah, I would think that, wouldn’t I? – but it’s true. However badly written a book, I’ve never yet found one that didn’t convince me that its story was true. I might condemn the characters for being one-dimensional or acting irrationally or stupidly. I might think events are contrived or even downright silly, but I still think it’s as real as anything I read in the paper. It’s as though the words have a life of their own – and when you’re a writer as well as a reader you know that’s absolutely true.
Over Christmas I wrote a couple of short pieces, aiming to have some “extras” to tempt people to sign up to my Reader Group (and keep those who’ve already signed up entertained). That was the intention, but like most magic in stories, it gained a life of its own.
One story wouldn’t co-operate, insisted on wandering off on tangents and I’ve ended up with 8k words but not much of a clue what the story is yet (but I’m looking forward to finding out!).
Hijacked by my heroine
The other one … well! It was prompted by the tiniest little idea (a game the characters play to pass the time in Marissa Meyer’s Winter, actually) and my imagination went off in some weird and wonderful directions. I’ve ended up with a solid 3k word story (Queen of Rubies – even the title marched into my head fully formed), but my heroine isn’t content with that and keeps chattering in my head, demanding more time and space to tell her story.
Hostage to imagination
I’d love to give her more time, but I’ve got a novel to finish revising, Across the Metal Seas is due back from my editor any day, and real life will insist on requiring my time and attention. I’m trying to ignore her, not entirely successfully. If it comes down to a battle of wills, I’m not sure I’m the one who’ll win.
Forced to write by a figment of my imagination – I think that’s the writer’s life in a nutshell!
Want to read it?
Queen of Rubies will be available first to subscribers on my Reader Group list. Sign-up if you’d like to read it when it’s finished (in either my or my heroine’s opinion). In the meantime, you’ll get exclusive, monthly access to deleted scenes, character profiles and extras.
… tea, chocolate, and desperation (oh, and Post-it notes).
Tea. I’m British, and this is the national curative. Just been in a minor accident? I’ll make you a cup of sweet tea for the shock. Bad exam results? Have a nice cup of tea and remember there’s always re-takes. Leg bitten off by a crocodile? Don’t worry, have a nice cup of tea while I wind this tourniquet around the stump of your leg and you’ll soon be feeling much more the thing… While writing tea keeps me going, and a pause for a cup of tea enforces a few minutes’ break during which my tea-lubricated mind can find something to fill in plot holes and generate a few ‘ah-ha’ moments.
Chocolate. My writing is fuelled by a fairly random reward and punishment system which depends largely on how I feel at the time I’m writing. On a good day, all that’s needed is to let the muse flow through me, the words to add up on the computer, and to note each shiny, new one thousand words with a sticker to show I’m making progress. On days where the words have dried up and the plot descended to implausible treacle, chocolate is required: once I’ve written a thousand words I can have a chocolate brazil. Or maybe once I’ve written 500 words. On truly desperate days, a sentence earns it. Chocolate ensures progress when nothing else can.
Desperation. I was the class swot. During my educational career, every single essay or piece of work was in early or on time (there was one exception, which stands out precisely because of its singularity, that simply goes to show I’m human, although a swot). Those early, ingrained habits show up now in my writing life (case in point: this blog post was actually drafted a week ago in dread of running out of things to say). To finish a book, all I needed to do was set a deadline for publication and watch myself get more and more focused as the date drew nearer with the thunderous drone of stampeding animals.
Which brings me nicely to: Post-It notes. There are backs of envelopes and scraps of paper, but I know I wouldn’t be half as productive without Post-It notes. Invaluable not only for plotting stories, they came into their own as I organised all the other jobs self-publishing requires, creating to-do lists which I could screw up in glint-eyed delight once I’d performed the task scribbled on it.
So, those are my four cornerstones. Anything you wouldn’t be without while writing?
I always write with music on in the background. Writers have strong feelings about this. Like plotter-vs-pantster debates, fellow writers either consider music a vital adjunct to the creative process, or a barbaric derailment of inspirational flow. While I’m sure I could write without music I like to have some noise going on in the background (largely, I suspect, because it enables me to talk to myself without it being obvious). A lot of the time I just have the radio on, but every book will attract to itself a tune or tunes that particularly resonate.
For The Last Dreamseer, that tune was Florence and the Machine’s RabbitHeart (have a listen, courtesy of YouTube):
Because I’m a writer and I adore language and words, it’s always the lyrics of a song that make me fall in love with it, and the words of Rabbit Heart really struck a chord as I was writing The Last Dreamseer. My heroine, Deena, starts the story as a completely “rabbit-hearted girl”, scared of everything (with good reason since she is blessed/cursed with a gift that has had a very high price attached). During the course of the story she learns to take control of her strengths and grows from being the lamb to becoming the knife. You know, this song could have been written for her…
Creating the world of Fane has made me ponder about superpowers, because everyone on Fane (and fanes when they visit other planets) demonstrates some extraordinary abilities that human beings would consider superpowers.
Deena, the heroine of The Last Dreamseer, has probably drawn the short straw. Her superpower is the ability to see the future in visions. Now, this ought to be a cool ability: book your holidays for the sunny weeks, and never get caught in the rain without an umbrella ever again. But it hasn’t worked out that way for Deena. Being able to see the future made her the focus of a lot of attention by Fane’s rulers. All they cared about was that the future worked out the way that most benefitted them. If she foresaw something the queen didn’t like it was often her who suffered (shoot the messenger and all that).
If I were to be granted a superpower, I’d give seeing the future a miss in favour of the superpowers all fanes enjoy – control over the elements. Thanks to their anima crystals, all fanes can control earth, air, fire and water to a greater or lesser degree. The coolest way this manifests itself is in bounding – controlling the air and ones own body weight to be able to jump miles at once.
I based this ability on fairy tales of seven league boots – footwear that lets you step 20-odd miles at a time (my hero, Cal, says he can go twice that distance in one bound, but he’s a bit showy that way). Bounding is a kind of flying without wings and would be an absolutely brilliant superpower to possess – no need for cars or waiting for buses or trains when you can get wherever you want to go in a couple of steps.
So that’s my preferred superpower let me know yours in the comments below. And check out my friend’s Rhoda Baxter’s blog where she tries to decide which superpower she’d most like.
As I mentioned last week, I’ve been pretty busy with the nitty-gritty of publishing lately. The Last Dreamseer is now live at e-retailers and ready to launch on 27th November (yippee!), but the pace hasn’t let up as I’ve been liaising with friends who have kindly agreed to blog on my behalf to publicise the launch, as well as writing interviews and planning my own tweets and blogs and press releases.
So, it’s been hectic, but hugely enjoyable – writing is what I love most and I haven’t yet found any activity linked to writing or getting published that I actively loathe (some I’m not keen on, but I can see their advantage, so I just grit my teeth and get on the other side of them).
Aside from the nagging sensation that I’ve forgotten something (I don’t think that’ll ever go away) I’m pretty satisfied that my to-do list tells me it’s all under control. What I really needed was to get away from my PC to stop worrying about what else I could/should be doing, and relax.
So, I borrowed a dog and went here today.
I love autumn – season of mists and mellow fruitfulness and all that. It’s always struck me as a calm, relaxing season when things start to wind down, which maybe appeals because it’s the opposite of rarely-calm, finds-it-impossible-to-relax me. It was a particularly beautiful autumn day today – cold, but with clear blue skies and brilliant sunshine which reminded me what a beautiful planet we share, and how lucky I am to live in such a peaceful and well-cared-for corner of it.
I returned home with frozen fingers but feeling more relaxed than I have for a long time. Stress levels are at minimal and energy stoked to the max, ready for the next thing – The Last Dreamseer‘s launch, and then revisions for my next novel because relaxing is all very well, but I couldn’t do it for days on end.
I am in the thick of final, final, FINAL proofing for my next novel, The Last Dreamseer.
Somehow, I thought it would be quicker than this. I’ll explain my editing process: I’ve written the book, had writer friends look at it, revised and revised again. It’s then been to a professional editor for substantive edits (what’s wrong with the plot/characters), and revised. And then to a line editor (what’s wrong with the sentences), and revised. It’s then been printed out and read through by me, as well as being proofed by two professionals and fed through my Kindle to catch any errors I couldn’t see on the PC screen. I’ve then gone through the formatting, so all that was needed was to upload the final version to my retailers (Amazon and Smashwords).
I thought it would take me maybe an hour.
It’s the oddest thing, but reading it through on the Amazon on-line checker made me see all manner of repetitions (and a few, plain, good-old typos) that had managed to escape all the eyes that have looked through the book so far.
Finally, it’s now done and uploaded and I’m relieved to see the back of it, if I’m honest.
Because the thing is, writing is the kind of art that doesn’t ever have to be finished. As well as checking for typos and errors, I was also aware of my fingers twitching over the keyboard, while my mind nagged at me, “Is that the right verb? Are you sure?” and “Maybe that scene would be better if it took place outside instead of in her room.”
I had to grit my teeth and stop myself making some unnecessary changes, thankful that I had a deadline because otherwise I might still be tinkering with the thing on my deathbed.
So that’s my tip for this week. If you have a piece you can’t stop messing about with, but you’re confident it is, fundamentally, fine as it is, then set yourself a deadline and move on. Publish it, if you plan to self-publish, or get it sent off to agents and editors.
And then move on to the next. Because that’s the other ‘always’ – there’ll always be another story to write.
Pinch, punch it’s November 1st so for once I don’t need to struggle to think of a topic to blog about: it’s NaNoWriMo time.
I’m a firm fan of NaNoWriMo, because it matches the way I work, splurging a dirty draft of something into the world as quickly as possible, which can then be revised and edited at leisure.
My writing style has evolved over the past couple of years away from panster towards becoming a confirmed plotter (plotting first saves me so much time and so many words). I finished plotting on my NaNo project a couple of days ago so I’m confident I’ll be able to keep up with the breakneck pace of NaNoWriMo and end the month victorious with a draft of something workable.
And while I don’t usually find it a problem to make time for writing because aside from family, it’s invariably my top priority (the layer of dust throughout my house confirms this!), I like that for November I’m so obviously not the only one letting everything slide in order to get the words down. I’m in good company for 30 days where we all have a laser-like focus on writing, writing, and more writing.
This year I won’t “win” because I’m aiming to write a 40k-word novella, so I won’t reach the magic 50,000 words, but 40,000 words in a month is an achievement I’ll be proud of, especially since I’m launching a book at the end of the month, too (I wouldn’t like my life to get dull!).
And now, I need to log on and note my first day: 2240 words in 90 minutes is pretty respectable. Now I just need to keep it up.
Anyone else writing like a demon this month? How are you doing?